The government has today given the go-ahead for a free vaccination programme against the deadly meningococcal disease in Northland.
There have been 29 cases nationwide of people contracting the virulent Meningococcal or MenW strain so far this year.
Of them, seven have been in Northland, where three of the six deaths nationwide involving the strain have occurred.
Health Minister David Clark said free immunisations will be offered to those aged nine months to four years, inclusive, and those aged 13 to 19 years, also inclusive.
He said research showed that vaccinating these two age groups was the best way to reduce the spread of meningococcal disease across the entire Northland community.
Dr Clark said the Northland District Health Board plans to start a three-week community vaccination programme on 5 December in selected high schools and community centres across Northland.
He added that launching such a programme now, when the school year is almost over and the holiday season is close, will be challenging for the DHB.
"However it is important that we begin this work as soon as possible to contain this deadly disease in Northland."
Dr Clark said there is strong demand for the vaccine internationally and it's in short supply.
He said drug-buyer Pharmac and the Health Minsitry have done well to source 20 thousand doses covering four types of meningococcal disease, A, C, W and Y.
The first batch of 10,000 doses will arrive in the country next week and the remainder a few weeks later.
"Pharmac and the Ministry of Health will continue to investigate the availability of further doses of the vaccine as a contingency, in case further roll-out of the programme is recommended," Dr Clark said.
Four of the seven cases in Northland were reported in September and October, according to the DHB.
It said there has been no link between the cases, which cover a range of ages, geographical areas and both Maori and European New Zealanders.
"We are hopeful that more vaccine will become available so we can vaccinate the entire population under 20 years as we did in 2011 with the meningococcal C vaccination programme," the DHB chief executive Nick Chamberlain said.
To be eligible, children and adolescents would need to be a Northland resident. Free three-week community vaccinations will take place from Wednesday December 5 until Friday December 21, seven days a week.
Dr Chamberlain added that with Christmas approaching, "it will be a huge logistical feat to vaccinate 20 thousand children and youth before they go on holiday".
The location of vaccination clinics would be confirmed as soon as possible, with details published on the DHB website, social media, radio and in newspapers.